Islamabad, 25 August 2021: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has announced a decision on the petition demanding that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) file its legally mandated reports to parliament.
The petition cited Section 53 of The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, which states that the FIA “shall submit a half yearly report to both houses of the Parliament for consideration by the relevant Committee in camera, in respect of its activities, without disclosing identity information, in a manner as prescribed under this Act.”
Yasser Latif, the lawyer who filed the petition in IHC, told Digital Rights Monitor that the FIA has not presented any such bi-annual reports. The reports have to outline the amount of specific cases on which action has been taken under PECA during the period. The reports also have to follow a certain template. He remarked that an administrative report had been shown, but it did not follow the template or give the information necessary.
Justice IHC Mohsin Akhtar Kayani presided over the case, which has been ongoing since February 2020.
The court declared that the petitioner should sit down with the director of the FIA and help compile the reports. The next hearing has been scheduled for September 25, 2021.
The case is another incident of increasing pressure on the FIA, which has come under intense scrutiny from the IHC.
The FIA’s practice of sending vague notices on short notice to journalists has been called into question in the past, particularly by the IHC.
Nadeem Malik, a senior journalist and president of Samaa TV, received a notice on July 2 from the FIA’s counter-terrorism wing, asking him to appear on July 6. The case was to be heard in the anti-cyber crime court and not in the anti-terrorism court. However, on July 27 last year, the Islamabad Anti-Terrorism Court ruled that the case was not related to terrorism. The directive came as IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah resumed the hearing of a case against successive notices issued by the FIA’s Cybercrime wing to the citizens, especially journalists.
The IHC on July 30 sought a report from the FIA on the implementation of standard operating procedures to stop misuse of the cybercrimes law and directed the agency to consult representative organisations of journalists on the matter.
However, the FIA could not prepare and present SOPs that would prevent future harassment of journalists.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has also taken notice of the harassment and attacks on journalists, and summoned and sought reports from the home secretary, the director-general of the FIA and the inspector general of Islamabad. This move followed a petition alleging that journalists have been routinely targeted with physical assaults and verbal threats, among other ways. It stated that even reports of these attacks and abductions had been stifled on the news.
The petition also named the FIA as one of the entities that stifles their freedom to practice journalism. It also said that several constitutionally provided rights were being violated.
“Departments and institutions of the state which are supposed to protect us are being used to lodge false cases against us. In this, the FIA has resorted to lodging baseless and unfounded cases against reputable journalists,” the petition stated.